If you’re seeking an efficient approach to enhance your core strength and minimize the chances of experiencing back pain and injuries, you might want to experiment with implementing the McGill Big 3 exercises. These specific exercises have been developed by Dr. Stuart McGill, a distinguished spine expert and professor specializing in spine biomechanics at the University of Waterloo in Canada.
At CrossFit Mountain Island, we incorporate these exercises into the training regimens of clients who are dealing with back pain, both in our personalized training sessions and group fitness classes.
The McGill Big 3 consists of three exercises that effectively bolster core stability, enhance posture, and diminish the risk of back pain. The best part is that these exercises require no equipment and can be performed virtually anywhere. Let’s delve deeper into each exercise:
- The Curl-Up: This exercise primarily targets the rectus abdominis, the muscle responsible for the coveted six-pack abs. To execute a curl-up, lie on your back with one knee bent and the other leg extended. Place your hands beneath your lower back for support, then lift your head and shoulders off the ground while keeping your lower back firmly pressed against the floor. Hold this position for a few seconds, then gradually lower yourself back down. Repeat this movement for 5-10 repetitions on each side.
While the curl-up significantly enhances core strength, it is crucial to maintain proper form throughout the exercise. Ensure that your lower back remains flush against the ground and avoid pulling your neck forward as you lift your head and shoulders.
- The Side Plank: This exercise primarily targets the oblique muscles located on the sides of your core. To perform a side plank, lie on your side with your elbow directly beneath your shoulder and your legs extended. Lift your hips off the ground, creating a straight line from your head to your feet. Maintain this position for a few seconds, then lower your body back down. Repeat this sequence for 8-12 repetitions on each side. Alternatively, you can hold the side plank position for 15-60 seconds at a time to increase the challenge. We recommend you try to increase the amount of time you can hold the position each week, even if only by a few seconds.
The side plank is an exceptional exercise for enhancing lateral stability and core strength. For an added challenge, attempt to raise your top leg while maintaining the position (advanced).
- The Bird Dog: This exercise primarily targets the erector spinae muscles that run along your spine. To perform a bird dog, start on your hands and knees with your hands directly beneath your shoulders and your knees directly beneath your hips. Extend one arm and the opposite leg simultaneously, creating a straight line from your fingertips to your toes. Hold this position for a few seconds, then lower your limbs back down. Repeat this sequence for 5-10 repetitions on each side. To add to the challenge, hold the finish position of each repetition for 3-5 seconds.
The bird dog exercise is highly effective in improving spinal stability and balance. It is important to maintain a neutral spine throughout the movement and avoid arching your back as you extend your arm and leg. This typically happens due to a lack of core control.
Remember, it is essential to prioritize proper form rather than focusing solely on the number of repetitions when performing the McGill Big 3 exercises. Begin with one set of 5-10 repetitions for each exercise, either before or after your workout, and gradually progress to 3-4 sets of 10 repetitions as your core strength improves.
Incorporating the McGill Big 3 exercises into your fitness routine can contribute to achieving a robust and stable core while reducing the risk of back pain and injuries.
If you experience back pain, we highly recommend seeking guidance from an expert personal trainer or physical therapist in your area.